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Larry Crowne (Tom Hanks, 2011)
Tom Hanks offers another heaping helping of his trademark Gump-like affability with Larry Crowne, an unbearably mawkish, supposed “feel-good” comedy that seems unlikely to achieve even that modest goal. From the painfully unfunny opening credits sequence, in which we see Hanks’ titular character gleefully doing his menial work at a discount retailer, to its improbable romantic conclusion, this film hopes to coast by on platitudes and charm. Larry Crowne was co-written by Hanks with My Big Fat Greek Wedding screenwriter Nia Vardalos, but from the way that it telegraphs punch lines and allows comic momentum to die the moment it threatens to pick up, one would never guess that it had two former stand-up comedians behind it. A film that needs to be viewed without cynicism to be appreciated, Larry Crowne has at the same time been cynically constructed to appeal to America’s rapidly disappearing middle class, assuming that its intended audience is too brain dead to face the hardships of reality directly.
Though Larry Crowne is broadly topical, its message is too facile to be meaningful. In its overeager embrace of middle-class characters, it feels through and through like a vanity project, seemingly designed to make its creators feel more in touch with roots that they have long ago abandoned. Too nice for its own good, the film squanders its premise from the start. Although Larry’s post-termination life initially seems uncertain, the sting barely lasts. From the very first moment he enrolls, his experience at his local community college, which dominates the rest of the scenes, is little but pleasant. Once Larry begins to flirt with Ms. Tainot (Julia Roberts), his public speaking professor, the movie quickly devolves into a mindless romantic comedy, which is disappointing, given its initial promise of engagement with the world. From here, Larry Crowne only further flounders, as it desperately puts its lead in a new job with a gruff but loveable boss, gives him a makeover, and sees him joining a cute scooter gang. Most sitcoms aren’t this uninspired.
Little about Larry Crowne seems worth praise. Julia Roberts, despite her reputation as a vapid movie star, admittedly is willing to allow herself to appear unappealing on screen. In Larry Crowne, she plays a shrewish, alcoholic, self-centered professor. The script does her character few favors, spending its energy instead villainizing her porn addict husband (Bryan Cranston). Writer/director/star Hanks conversely depicts himself as something of a saint. Worse, he has filmed this, his second feature, anonymously, with only the most superficial flashes of visual flair (both Larry and Ms. Tainot are each seen in a moment of subjective blurring; Tainot is positioned next to a picture of a crown when she accepts Mr. Crowne’s offer of a scooter ride) and no shortage of lame musical cues. With little to distract us from its half-hearted plotting and flimsy characterizations, Larry Crowne quickly turns into an abject failure, propped up only by its fading stars’ fading charisma. This fluffy fantasy is, in short, a movie that wants to tackle social realities without the messiness of facing reality.